Eco-Friendly

The #1 Thing You Can Do to Be Eco-Friendlier Today Is…

We asked the experts how to live greener.

April  9, 2019

Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Ways to Green, where we're sharing all the little (and not so little!) things we do to live eco-friendlier every day. Stick with us all month long for a lineup of handy tips—from composting do's and don'ts to which reusable products really light up our lives.


A few weeks ago, as I unloaded my groceries, I took a few moments to consider just how much plastic I’d accumulated in one trip, between the plastic produce bags, plastic food containers, and plastic-wrapped veggies.

It was a not-so-subtle (extra-crinkly) reminder that I know I want to do my part to be kinder to the earth, but to be honest, I never know where to start. Is it better to stop using one-time grocery bags, or to walk instead of driving? To start composting or to cut back on plastics? Some day soon, I hope I’ll do it all, but for me these kinds of lifestyle changes tend to “stick” better when I take them one step at a time.

So, I asked several experts for the number one thing they'd suggest I do to start living a more eco-friendly life right now—here’s what they said.


Ask More Questions

Let your curiosity drive your lifestyle change, suggests Kestrel Jenkins, host of the Conscious Chatter podcast about sustainable fashion.

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Top Comment:
“Recycling is in a major turmoil at the moment. American recycling has been promoted largely by making it easy for the consumer- practically no sorting or preparation required. Unfortunately, this has led to widespread contamination of the recycling bundles sent overseas- particularly paper and plastics. The policy in the past has been to let it be someone else's problem, and the someone elses (particularly China, which is not really in the mood to cater to American interests) are refusing to take in materials that largely end up in landfills. Those of us who've been around for a while may remember when recycling meant sorting glass by color, washing labels off of cans, saving newspapers all year for the Boy Scouts and suchlike inconveniences (which really aren't so bad), and if recycling is going to continue to work at all, people will need to commit some effort to it. Will they? I don't know- the attitude that "I'm done with it, it's not my problem" is pretty pervasive in our culture, do people care enough to rise above it? ”
— Smaug
Comment

"For me, it's all about asking questions,” she says. “It seems super basic, but can truly help you start small, and begin exploring what an eco-friendly lifestyle means for you.”

What kind of questions? Start with what genuinely interests you: “Maybe you're curious about your clothing and what it's made of, or you're interested in knowing more about where your food comes from.”

“Whatever it is for you, remember there's never just one answer,” Jenkins recommends. “Find the direction that works for you, so your curiosity and knowledge continue to snowball, and your choices can become sustainable with your lifestyle."


Commit to One Small, Realistic Task

“The best thing people can do is make a commitment and stick to it,” says Kathryn Kellogg, the blogger behind Going Zero Waste. “Whether that's bringing your own thermos to the coffee shop every day, your own plate to the café that serves in nothing but disposables, truly committing to no more plastic water bottles, or actually bringing your own bags to the grocery store.”

She says it doesn’t matter what the commitment is, as long as you follow through: “There are so many easy ways people can have a positive impact, but the first step is definitely committing to the idea that's what you want to do.”


Cook Meals from Scratch

“I believe the number one step people can take to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle is to cook,” says Anne Marie Bonneau, aka the Zero Waste Chef.

“When you cook, you eat more whole foods, which means you eat fewer highly processed foods—the stuff packaged in single-use, throwaway plastic,” she explains. “You also waste less food because you figure out what to do with that extra cup of pasta sauce, that half bell pepper, or leftover parsley from previous meals. This reduces food waste—a major contributor to climate change.”

Kellogg also recommends considering adding new cooking habits to your repertoire: “As far as the largest impact people can have, I would definitely recommend more plant-based meals, and looking into a compost service or starting your own compost pile.”


Understand Recycling Better

Finally, according to Andrea Ruiz-Hays of Recycle Across America, we can help the environment by prioritizing recyclable packaging and familiarizing ourselves with what can and can’t go into the recycle stream.

“The most important step we can take to start living a more eco-friendly lifestyle is to be an educated consumer,” says Ruiz-Hays. “Always consider reuse first, and if that’s not an option for the product, make sure you’re purchasing from brands that are using material that can have endless recyclability.”


Have any tips for little ways to go eco-friendlier? Let us know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Jacky Ragz
    Jacky Ragz
  • Mightyqtn
    Mightyqtn
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3 Comments

Smaug April 9, 2019
Recycling is in a major turmoil at the moment. American recycling has been promoted largely by making it easy for the consumer- practically no sorting or preparation required. Unfortunately, this has led to widespread contamination of the recycling bundles sent overseas- particularly paper and plastics. The policy in the past has been to let it be someone else's problem, and the someone elses (particularly China, which is not really in the mood to cater to American interests) are refusing to take in materials that largely end up in landfills. Those of us who've been around for a while may remember when recycling meant sorting glass by color, washing labels off of cans, saving newspapers all year for the Boy Scouts and suchlike inconveniences (which really aren't so bad), and if recycling is going to continue to work at all, people will need to commit some effort to it. Will they? I don't know- the attitude that "I'm done with it, it's not my problem" is pretty pervasive in our culture, do people care enough to rise above it?
 
Jacky R. April 9, 2019
I came here to comment the same thing! Since China isn't taking our recycling, it's being sent to smaller surrounding Asian countries that can't handle the amount we're exporting. So a lot of it ends up in landfills anyway and also contaminating those communities.

I had no idea that people used to actually sort and clean recycling. My family has always done this, not really sure why, and growing up I thought everyone did it until I talked to friends. I know in Korea they sort their trash into 5 or 7 sections; is it possible to adopt this in the U.S., I'm not sure.
 
Mightyqtn April 14, 2019
Smaug - exactly